Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 12

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -8 Shouwa Genroku - 12 -11 Shouwa Genroku - 12 -35

The moment we’ve been building towards for 12 episodes finally arrived, but it was no less impactful for being so expected.

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -1If there was anything that stood out for me about this latest in a run of really excellent episodes of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, it’s that it managed against all odds to make me forget about what I knew was coming.  The tragic events that would end Sukeroku’s story have been hanging over the series from the very beginning, a constant companion.  But the atmosphere in the first half of the episode was so enrapturing that it managed to crowd out even that shadow, at least for a little while.

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -2As always, the choice of performance in this show is far from coincidental.  Kikuhiko chooses Akegarasu (“Raven’s Revenge”), a tale of a naive young virgin, Tokijirou, tricked into going to the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter by two friends who tell him the gate is actually a shrine’s Tori gate, and that since the three entered together they must leave together.  Tokijirou falls in love with a beautiful courtesan named Urazato.  One of the themes of this story is “men must love women, whether they want to or not” – and this certainly casts an interesting light on Kiku’s life story.  It’s also worth noting that the two principals in Akegarasu are later part of Japan’s most famous double-suicide (which Rakugo Shinjuu has referenced before).

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -3As ever, Bon’s performance is nuanced and regal, betraying no signs of rust.  The same cannot be said of Shin, who chooses a work seemingly ill-suited to him – Shibahama, the story of a lush of a fishmonger who straightens up and flies right after his wife pulls a clever if cruel trick on him.  The meaning of Sukeroku choosing an earnest story for once is obvious, and his performance here is interesting – he’s visibly rushing through the tale, his nervousness altering his normal relaxed pace and manner.  But the depth of feeling behind the performance wins over the audience (especially Konatsu) anyway.

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -4We’ve talked a lot of about Ishida Akira’s performance in this series – and with good reason – but Yamadera Kouichi is just as remarkable.  For a 54 year-old actor to project so much youthful vigour and vulnerability is quite a feat, and he displays his full range in this episode.  There’s so much hope and optimism in the aftermath of the performances at Kame-ya, and the natural inclination is going to be to blame Miyokichi for everything going wrong.  Blame is always a presence in Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, insistently asking us to make a judgment and then forcing us to question it.  Now, with the events at the inn after she returns to the scene, the topic can no longer be procrastinated.

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -5First, we have the reunion of Kikuhiko and Miyokichi – which actually comes after the return of Matsuda-san and a sweet moment when Sukeroku, a sleeping Konatsu on his lap, seems to accept Kiku’s invitation to return to their master’s house (now Kiku’s) and accept the Yakumo role.  Notable here is that Bon states that this will happen “after he finds Miyokichi” – and one wonders what his intentions are with her.  When she finds him, it’s likewise unclear what he’s thinking – and there are long stretches of agonizing silence in this scene drawing out the suspense.  Eventually it becomes clear that there is indeed a strong physical desire at play on his part – something that was not always obvious – and the choice Kiku makes is to honor it.  Men must love women, whether they want to or not.

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -6Bon’s choice having been made, it now falls to Shin to choose.  When he barges in on the two of them after Miyokichi suggests a double-suicide with Kiku, having eavesdropped, I was wondering if he might accept the obvious truth of Miyokichi’s feelings and offer to step aside.  It would have been the easiest path – Konatsu likely would have been fine with it, as deeply resentful (with good reason) of her mother as she is, and it would have allowed the fairy tale reunion of the rakugo dream team to move forward.  But instead, he tearfully pledges to clean up his act and quit rakugo, declaring that he loves Miyokichi and Konatsu more.

Shouwa Genroku - 12 -7Her reaction – “Why would you say that now?!” – very much mirrored my own.  It’s easiest to blame Miyokichi for the tragic events to follow, but it’s really this choice Sukeroku makes that seals everyone’s fate.  There are many, many elements at play as the moment we’ve dreaded finally plays itself out.  Rakugo is, in the end, a thing and only a thing – it cannot give a man what the love of other people can.  His protestations aside, Kikuhiko cannot be happy being totally alone – even if he surely knew that the notion of happily sharing a house with a family of Sukeroku, Miyokichi and Konatsu was a fantasy, he pursued it.  And Sukeroku cannot cast aside his wife and child to return to the childish fantasy his life once was, though in his heart he surely knows he’s not the man Miyokichi loves.  If tragedy as a dramatic form is knowing the ending and being fascinated in watching it play out, then tragedy in human form is seeing the folly in one’s actions yet being unable to avoid them.

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15 comments

  1. T

    My only confusion is how come konatsu remembers that event differently? I mean the way she remembers it, its in room and there is blood all over kiku while he is holding onto the collar of her father’s neck.

  2. I can think of two reasons. One, she’s a little girl and her memories are fantastical. Or, Kiku colored the memory to reflect his own biases. I suppose we’ll find out next week.

  3. D

    Deleted. That counts as a manga spoiler.

  4. Maybe that was a visual metaphor? As in, she *perceived* it as Kiku killing her father.

    Or that was not a room, and she first sees Kiku holding her father’s body after he goes downstairs to check on him.

  5. And here we can see why this series is so good. I really hope Deen surprises us with a second season announcement. As far as I know, the manga is finished and there’s enough material for another cour.

    Excellent review, as always, Enzo.

  6. r

    when Kiku and Miyu are in the room and she asks him if he came to change things, he doesn’t say anything and her eyes start slowly tearing, crying…….wth is going on in his head at that moment? It was really a terribly tense scene, his eyes sort of looking away to the side…… and then he licks her………..darn Kiku…….ofcourse everything takes this tragic turn once Shin walks in and the inevitable wheel of fate goes in motion………..really, my heart……….

  7. “As ever, Bon’s performance is nuanced and regal, betraying no signs of rust. The same cannot be said of Bon, who chooses a work seemingly ill-suited to him…”

    The second Bon should be Shin/Sukeroku, if I’m not terribly mistaken?

    Wow, that’s an interesting connection to Kiku’s rakugo.

    Great review, even if I interpreted some things differently regarding the question of blame. But it’s the kind of series that leaves a lot to the viewer to decide, even inviting us to be a part of the art this week, because without the audience, there is nothing for the artists to reflect themselves in. Fascinating show.

  8. Z

    This episode was really good. I think it was my favorite of the series, and this series is my favorite of the season. Normally in tragedies, I am uncomfortable when the boot finally drops, but this episode was just wonderful. Wonderful and sad. The image we are given of Miyokichi is a little close to the yaoi portrayal of “all women are manipulative and evil”, but I still find her to be a sad, potentially redeemable creature. She is certainly a special kind of crazy, but Kikuhiko and Sukeroku are also on the “a bit unhinged” side of sanity. Every poor choice that any of the three of them made led them to this point.

    And I agree, the voice acting in this series is stellar.

    Honestly, I was just speechless by how good I thought this episode was. I’m glad so many other people thought it was good too.

  9. s

    Y’know, I definitely agree that the “evil manipulative woman” trope is common in fiction, and also a tad bit too strong in this series for my own comfort, but the assumption that it’s really common in BL is a claim that I’m honestly not too sure about. Like, I also thought that way before, but when I really think about it, I can’t really come up with many examples of it in yaoi (and trust me, I’ve read a lot). I had to think for like 15 minutes to come up with just one, and that’s it. Meanwhile, I can come up with several examples of female characters in the genre that are treated in a positive way. It’s really common to have a female character as a love rival in yaoi, sure, but they’re almost always potrayed in a sympathetic light, not as despicable evil people. Can you name some examples of a bad yaoi potrayal of women?

    Honestly, I think this idea that women involved in a M/M romantical context (context which in many times is not real but only perceived as such because of queerbaiting and homoerotic subtext) are treated unfairly stems from the fandom’s reception of such characters, and not the potrayal in the work itself. Like, often when people ship M/M ships (whether they’re canon or not), if there’s a female love interest present in the work as well it’s not uncommon for fans to start hating on that character, but not because they’re potrayed in a negative way in the actual story. Many times in actual gay stories (where there’s no bullshit queerbaiting involved), I don’t find that to be as common.

    Anyway, I talked for a bit too long lol, your comment just made me start thinking and I couldn’t stop. :)

  10. Z

    While I can’t remember all (or even most) of the evil women in BL, since it is one of my pet peeves so I will stop reading it if I think it goes overboard. But just off the top of my head I can think of these examples from manga I think are good. Oddly enough, none of them are ever romantic interests:

    Taiyou no Romance (insane cosmetic woman who wants to remain looking young)

    Yome ni Konai ka -v02 (evil mother-in-law)

    Sorenari ni Shinken nan desu (mother who abandoned her child and husband, and then takes custody of the child but pays more attention to her new husband’s son)

    Sumanai Masumi-kun (the wife who abandoned the husband and child and never shows up again. Ever. Additionally, while not technically evil, the stupid daughter who thinks the best way to be with her girlfriend is to arrange a fake marriage with a man who will take care of her father and then run away)

    Sex Pistols (mother tries to drug her son and get him to impregnate many women)

    Golden Days (one mother takes and/or destroys everything that her son considers a “treasure”, including forcing him to stop playing violin. Another mother refuses to acknowledge that her daughter exists, and makes her pretend to be her dead brother)

    I agree, there are depictions of reasonable women in BL, but since there are so few woman portrayed in them in general, it *feels* like the pendulum swings pretty heavily into the “evil women” range even if it isn’t actually the case.

  11. When Sukeroku’s rakugo went on so long I was doubting that the suicide would take place. I love the direction taking place here, there are some really great use of stills and particle effects. I’ll be crossing my fingers for a season 2 announcement next week, its sad how many Shinichi Omata shows don’t get the closure they deserve.

  12. Wow…whilst I don’t often find myself agreeing with your interpretations of a show, this is the first Rakugo 12 review that I’ve been nodding along to. It had me going back to look at your reviews of the other episodes, which also had me nodding along more often then not. The main point on which I differ with you are the feelings of the two men for Miyokichi, but especially Sukeroku’s. In earlier reviews, you mentioned that you didn’t think he really loved her or would ever love her–I’d argue that he probably fell in love with her when they met in Manchuria. It’s pretty clear that he’s ‘crushing on’ her–to use a term that I don’t think fits in this era, but for which I don’t have any real alternative–in episodes 4 and 6. And it also explains their interactions in episode 8. Admittedly, I only realised that one week ago, so I can’t say much, really.

    Most importantly, though, I find myself really appreciating some of the extra research you’ve done on what Japan was like in the early post-war era, and also some of the rakugo stories that we only hear snippets of — as you’ve pointed out, many of them are incredibly significant. So thanks for that, and for a great review of this and several other Rakugo episodes.

  13. Thanks – very nice of you. While it’s clear Sukeroku was in love with her in the end, I’m not personally convinced he was in love with her all along. I do think a part of it was knowing she was in love with Kiku, and the fact that he was used to Kiku being the one jealous of what he had and not the other way around.

    In the end this may be a chicken and the egg argument. Sukeroku clearly fell in love with Miyokichi at some point – if the source of it was originally due to her being “Kikuhiko’s woman”, does it really matter which came first?

  14. Hm…whilst I probably wouldn’t say Sukeroku would have been able to give up his rakugo career for her if he hadn’t been expelled first, I thought that episode 4 made it clear enough that he was interested in her before Kiku even came on the scene. Of course, he could have been interested in her because she was his Master’s woman first…but I find it difficult to believe he’d have sustained that interest over at least 6 years (possibly 10, given that the Anti-Prostitution Laws were passed in 1956) if he had only thought of her so ‘lightly’, so-to-speak. The way he speaks to her at the start of episode 6 and in episode 8 also suggest that he really respects her, which is a huge contrast to how he’s behaved with other women. But it is something up for interpretation, which is what makes this show really interesting.

    I think Rakugo is one of those shows where rewatching it will really have a lot of value once we know what the whole story is. I used to think that Sukeroku’s main storyline was about Kiku and rakugo, until I went back and rewatched his scenes with Miyokichi. Same with Kiku, actually; part of the reason being that most people blogging and discussing this series seems to have focused on the Sukeroku-Rakugo-Kiku triangle. I suspect that if we go back and rewatch the entire show with some of these last few episode’s revelations in mind, we might notice a lot of little details that we never noticed before…

  15. At this point I wouldn’t read too much into Sukeroku’s motivations to be honest, there were only happy moments between him and Kikuhiko so its safe to assume there was really nothing going on. There’s not much indication that he was a petty person either, he was lazy and proud but not a jealous person I feel.

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